A new coffee-table book by photographer Jeremy Enlow shows the beauty and grit of a vanishing lifestyle at the United States’ biggest single-fence ranch.
Photographer Jeremy Enlow is a lifelong Texan and is no stranger to the out of doors. But in comparison to the working cowboys at the historic Waggoner Ranch, he might as well have rolled up to the spread in a hybrid taxicab wearing a Giants jersey and chewing on a lox-and-cream-cheese-schmeared everything bagel.
“I’m not a cowboy, but I’ve lived in Texas all my life,” he says. “One of the days we were leaving, Debbie [Douthit], the full-time chef at the ranch, said, ‘Y’all be careful going back to New York,’” he says, laughing at the memory. “To her, I was a Yankee!”
Questionable Yankee status aside, Enlow managed to capture stunning picture after stunning picture in five visits spread from April to July last year in a labor of love and his first book, Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch (Jeremy Enlow Fine Art Photography, 2015).
The book, released November 1, comes at a crucial time for the ranch. Established in 1849 by Dan Waggoner, the spread is the second-biggest in Texas after the King Ranch, encompassing 510,527 acres, and the biggest in the United States to be contained in a single fence. It has hosted dignitaries including U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and Comanche chief Quanah Parker. But with two sides of the owning family at odds over the future of the potentially oil-rich land — much of which remains undrilled, Enlow says — the ranch was put on the market in August 2014 for $725 million. Unless it’s purchased by a buyer who values preserving its timeless horseback cowboying techniques to the tune of nearly three quarters of a billion dollars, the sale of the ranch would likely mean the loss of a job for many or all of its 26 cowboys, many of whom are second- or third-generation Waggoner Ranch hands. Some of them have worked there for 30, 40, or even 50 years. The methods and routines of the ranch’s daily operations stretch back even farther.
“They do things old-school,” Enlow says. “No four-wheelers, no computers.”
It took until his third trip for the men to warm up to him, Enlow says. But he was determined to earn their trust and respect, so he made certain to do two things: Get there on time and keep his mouth shut. The former meant getting to the ranch at 4:45 a.m. for each visit for 5 a.m. breakfast. Each day he and an assistant would trail the caravan in an SUV and shoot them until the day’s work was done, no matter how long it took.
His efforts paid off big-time, as you can see in the soulful portraits, amazing action shots, and gorgeously lit pre-dawn, midday, and sunset shots.
Enlow felt compelled to capture authentic, working cowboys before their practice becomes extinct.
“These are things you see in a movie,” he says. “But they were the real deal out there.”